Daily Intake Guide achieves 60 percent boost in adoption rates

Introduced in 2006 as a voluntary initiative, Daily Intake Guide (DIG) nutrition labels now appear on over 7,200 food products on Australian supermarket shelves.

A recent statement from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) states that an audit conducted in May 2013 found that adoption of the DIG labels has increased by over 60 percent since 2011, gaining wide acceptance across all major categories.

The DIG initiative provides consumers with an easy to read front of pack nutrition label which is designed to promote a healthy, balanced diet. The labels show the amount of energy (kilojoules), fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in a standard portion of the food and how that translates to average daily intake.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson, says that the widespread adoption of the DIG labels over the past two years represents a major investment by food companies and retailers in providing transparent information on nutritional content.

“To have the DIG now on more than 7,200 products represents an investment conservatively estimated at around $72 million in changing food packaging to improve nutritional information,” said Dawson.

“With more and more food products featuring DIG front-of-pack labels, it’s an easy way for people and families to formulate a daily eating plan according to their individual needs and activity levels.”

Dawson says that industry in continuing to work with Government and other stakeholders to develop a uniform nutrition labelling system, however the wide acceptance of the DIG shows that it should remain as a foundation informative element on labels.

“Extensive international scientific literature has demonstrated that informative elements such as DIG are an essential part of any effective front-of-pack labelling scheme to enable consumers to identify healthier choices,” he Dawson. 

 

New bill aims to curb power of Coles and Woolworths

A new bill will be brought before federal parliament next week which is designed to curb the market power of supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths.

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott, will be introducing a private members bill which aims to strengthen the current rules surrounding abuse of market power especially within the context of $1 milk.

Oakeshott believes that provisions under the current Competition and Consumer Act do not sufficiently protect the supply chain or the consumer in the long term.

The Weekly Times Now reports that the new legislation would ensure that a broader view would be taken by the ACCC when making decisions, rather than limiting judgements to the direct consumer affected, or the direct supplier affected.

Oakeshott says that the 2011, $1 per litre milk campaign by both supermarkets is a prime example.

The commission found that the supermarkets were bargaining with large milk suppliers for $1 per litre milk without abusing power, resulting in a win for consumers. However Oakeshott says those truly affected by the price, the dairy farmers in the supply chain, were not adequately protected.

The new bill will force companies to assess the impacts on the supply chain and provide protection for those affected. It will also allow the ACCC to obtain documents and other information which may impact on the supply chain.

"Their concern is that, in the long term, the processors would look to dairy farmers to deliver the fresh product at lower prices," Mr Oakeshott said.

"Anecdotally, the prices expected at the farm gate to allow the consumer to purchase milk for $1-per-litre may not cover the basic on farm costs of production for all but the largest dairies.

"Taking a long-term view, a reasonable perception would be the win for consumers now may result in higher prices as more and more dairy farmers leave the industry.

"If dairy farmers do leave the market it could result in less competition in a small pool of dairy producers, or the fresh milk needing to be sourced from international markets."

 

Tasmania can’t afford to lose Simplot: Libs

In light of Simplot’s announcement that it may soon close its Devonport plant, Tasmania’s state liberals have said the government must do whatever it can to ensure the food processor stays afloat.

More than 300 jobs, including 200 casual positions, could be lost if the plant closes.

“Simplot is a major employer and economic contributor to the North-West economy and we must do everything we can to secure they remain,” Rockliff said.

“Tasmania cannot afford to lose Simplot.”

According to The Mercury, Primary Industries Minister Bryan Green, Premier Lara Giddings and Jeremy Rockliff have spoken to Simplot about what can be done to secure its future in Devonport.

Rockliff said the meeting with management was productive and provided some insight into what’s causing the company’s struggles, including red and green tape whjch costs farmers $300m a year.

The state Liberals are also keen to restore an international shipping service to get agricultural produce shipped directly to Asia, The Mercury reports.

 

Tassie’s aquaculture industry to receive a $7m boost

The federal government has provided a $7m grant towards Tasmania's Macquarie Harbour Aquaculture Hub.

Anthony Albanese, Tasmania’s regional development minister has said that the funding will provide an invaluable boost to the Tasmanian and West Coast industries as reported by The Mercury.

“This funding will make it possible for the major Tasmanian salmon growers to turn their vision into a reality,” said Albanese.

“The Aquaculture Hub will include wharves, buildings and associated infrastructure that will enable these Tasmanian companies to double their production of salmon and trout at the harbour.”  

Albanese said that aquaculture was a major growth industry in Tasmania and the additional funding will see the creation of up to 100 jobs during construction, followed by a further 163 jobs on the completion of the project in 2016.

Albanese says that many businesses with ties to the industry have expressed an interest in establishing operations at the Hub.

“Businesses that support aquaculture, such as ship chandlers, ship builders and repairers, and logistics operations have all expressed an interest in establishing new operations at the hub,” he said.

Federal Member for Braddon, Sid Sidebottom said the $7m was an integral part of the planned $60m expansion at Macquarie Harbour and predicts that the project could represent the building blocks for a billion dollar industry.

“It will transform the economy of the West Coast with flow-on effects to the whole of the state,” he said.

“It is a great example of the diversification of the Tasmanian economy that’s underway.”

 

Current food labelling guidelines are a joke, says Xenophon

As the federal election draws near, the food labelling debate is gathering momentum with key figures expressing their concerns on the current guidelines and standards.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon, has described the current labelling guidelines as ‘a joke’ as reported by the Weekly Times Now.

"I want food labelling to be a key election issue because current laws aren't just useless, but misleading," Senator Xenophon.

Backed by the Greens, Xenophon believes that the more open the discussion about Australia’s food labelling standards, the better.

"If I'm back in the senate and back in the balance of power position, I will make food labelling a key issue,” he said.

"And while the major political parties don't seem to be taking an interest at this stage, they will have to sit up and listen if this current drive continues."

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer is also supporting this sentiment by stating that should his party, the United Australia Party, be successful in the upcoming election, then he will introduce a law sighting the mandatory labelling of consumable goods containing less than 95 percent Australian components and packaging.

"Under the current laws, it is impossible to determine the breakdown between ingredients and packaging when an item is labelled Australian-made," Mr Palmer said in a statement.

"People may think they are supporting Australian producers when in fact only a very small percentage of what they spend may be staying in the country."

Federal Member of Kennedy, Bob Katter has also joined the debate by stating that he wants imported foods to carry warning labels. He says that the labels should inform consumers of potential unidentified risks that imported foods may carry, including health risks and the use of harmful chemicals.

The debate comes at a sensitive time for many growers around Australia as the rise in imported goods reaches all time highs. 60 orchardists in the Goulburn Valley region were informed earlier this year that SPC Ardmona will no longer purchase fruit from growers, and McCain foods also announced last week that they will not be renewing the contracts for four potato growers past harvest season in November.

 

ACCC opposes Heinz merger with Rafferty’s Garden

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have allegedly rejected a proposal from Heinz to acquire its main competitor in the baby food market, Rafferty’s Garden.

The ACCC have said that if the merger were to go ahead then Heinz would hold an 80 percent market share of the wet infant food market as reported by Business Spectator.

The competition watchdog stated that the takeover would be likely to result in a substantial lessening of competition as Rafferty’s Garden is too close a competitor.

“The proposed acquisition would combine the two largest suppliers of wet and dry infant food in Australia, resulting in highly concentrated markets where barriers to entry and expansion are high, particularly because of brand recognition and preference," said Rod Sims, ACCC chairman.

"This is likely to reduce the frequency and depth of promotional activity, increase prices and reduce innovation in the wet and dry infant food markets."

Rafferty’s Garden is owned by private equity firm Anacacia Capital and currently commands 40 percent of the wet infant food market.

 

MOI International fined for misleading claims

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has issued fines to MOI International, the Australian and New Zealand subsidiary of Malaysian based MOI Foods, for misleading claims made on one of its olive oil products.

The two infringement notices which totalled $20,400, related to the company’s Mediterranean blend oil product which was labelled as 100 percent extra-virgin olive oil, but was found to contain predominately canola oil according to the Weekly Times Now.

Fine print of the side of the container revealed that only 7 percent of the product was extra virgin olive oil, and the remaining 93 percent comprised of canola oil.

ACCC Chairman Rod Sims, said that the term “extra virgin” is widely synonymous with a premium product and MOI’s product claim was misleading to consumers.

"Consumers should be able to trust that what's on the label is what's in the bottle when making purchasing decisions,” said Sims.

"Traders who mislead consumers in this manner leave themselves wide open to enforcement action from the ACCC."

The ACCC was originally alerted of the claim via the Australian Olive Association (AOA) after a consumer sent in a container of the bottle.

"Straight away it was evident that the label was intentionally deceptive, claiming to be the highest grade, when in fact it was 93 per cent canola," said Lisa Rowntree, president of the AOA.

Rowntree said that while she was pleased that the ACCC took prompt action with MOI International, the AOA was disappointed that ACCC chairman Rod Sims stated that there is still no mandatory standard for extra virgin olive oil.

"It is disappointing that despite the copious evidence presented to the ACCC about the wide practice of olive oil adulteration that costs consumers on average $57 million annually in Australia, not much is being done."

According to Rowntree, Supermarket giant Coles announced last year that they will be adopting the Australian Standards for their private label and home brands olive oils.

"We just need Coles to go that one step further and ensure all the olive oil they sell complies with the Australian Standard,” she said.

"Woolies claim to be the Fresh Food People, so it would be great if Woolies would ensure that their olive oil is `fresh' as well."

 

National food plan to increase food focused learning in schools

The Federal Government has stated that an increase in funds and resources will give food and agriculture a more pivotal role in Australian school curriculums.

Sid Sidebottom, the parliamentary secretary for agriculture has announced that $1.5 m will be injected into educational programs throughout primary and secondary schools to improve school students’ knowledge and awareness of food production and potential career opportunities in the sector.

Sidebottom told ABC Rural that the Food in the Australian Curriculum initiative will provide a host of resources needed to educate students.

"Online and printed curriculum resources, professional development seminars for existing and trainee teachers, career advice materials based on local, food-related labour market opportunities, and networking of agriculture teachers currently employed in schools".  

 

Wins & woes in food manufacturing: Part three

There are obvious pros and cons to manufacturing wine on a small island off the coast of SA, but Yale Norris, general manager of Islander Estate Vineyards, says he wouldn't change a thing if he had his time again.

Islander Estate's founder and French winemaker, Jacques Lurton, planted the vineyard on Kangaroo Island in 2000, knowing that the island's cool climate, pristine environment and long ripening season, combined with his vast experience in winemaking, would produce some top notch wines. And he wasn't wrong.

"I think the biggest accomplishment that we've achieved as a company is that we're highly rated by Australian wine critics, and we have a five star rating from (James) Halliday, which puts us in around the top four percent of wineries in Australia," Norris told Food magazine.

Despite the brand's loyal following on the island, on the mainland and overseas, in countries including China, Hong Kong, Sweden, Finland, Canada and also in the UK, producing wine on the island, which sits 13km from the coast of Australia, presents a number of challenges.

"Part of the downside of making beautiful wine on Kangaroo Island is that you have to struggle with getting things to and from the island, and that increases our production costs significantly. Everything we have from a parts' perspective for the winery and the vineyard has to come across by ferry and from an export perspective and a bottling perspective everything has to go back off the island by ferry. So our transport costs are exponentially greater than our counterparts on the mainland," said Norris.

The next biggest challenge Islander Estate, and no doubt other manufacturers on the island face is labour.

"That's because a lot of folks come to Kangaroo Island wanting to live here for a very relaxed lifestyle, and vineyard work isn't necessarily relaxing, it's pretty hard yakka. So we certainly have challenges with getting labour, and in getting people who are willing to stay."

Not only is it difficult for the winery to find and then retain good workers, but paying them also presents a problem. And it affects manufacturers across Australia, not just on KI, says Norris.

"The cost of labour is extremely high compared to other places in the world. That certainly makes it less competitive. I don't know the answer to it but it certainly is a challenge we face. A lot of unskilled jobs have very high rates and it makes manufacturing difficult.

"It's not really sensible to pay an unskilled person 200 percent to work on a Sunday," he said.

But unlike other Australian food and beverage manufacturers, Islander Estate isn't threatened by imported products competing for shelf space.

"Imports aren't a problem because of the high tariffs they pay to bring wine into the country. One of the benefits, as a consumer, of the high dollar is the fact that imported wine became more affordable. But the quality of an imported wine compared to what you find domestically in a similar price point is not there."

The bigger concern is one of oversupply, insists Norris. Wineries with more product than they know what to do with are selling in bulk to "the Coles and Woolies of the world", who are then selling it extremely cheaply.

"That's a difficult thing because you have some guys out there making nice wine that they're unable to sell and have excess capacity which is then sold as a clean skin. That's certainly a challenge because people have the perception that wine should cost $3 a bottle."

Norris' concerns were echoed in IBISWorld's recent Wine Manufacturing in Australia 2012-13 report which referenced a 2009 study in stating that 20 percent of bearing vines in Australia are surplus to requirements and at least 17 percent of vineyard capacity is uneconomic. The study also found that Australia is producing 20 million to 40 million cases a year more than it is selling.

"So the challenge for us isn't necessarily the high dollar, it's the amount of Australian wine that's looking for a home somewhere else in the world. The competition we face with domestic competitors looking for new markets outside Australia is certainly a challenge," said Norris.

Despite these challenges, Islander Estate, which produces between 5,000 and 6,000 cases of wine per year, sees great growth opportunities both here and abroad, with the brand's very romantic story proving to be a great selling point.

"The story is the driver of a lot of sales, no matter where you are – even domestically. People want to hear a story, they want to understand the history of the brand, why we're here, why they should like the wine, rather than just buying something off the shelf which has no meaning whatsoever," said Norris.

"The Asian market is certainly big on that and I think that's a huge driver of why we're there, because Jacques has both an extended family history and a personal history of making wine in different parts of the world andhe's got a very romantic story about coming to this small island and having a vision to create beautiful, world-class wine from this little place in the middle of nowhere. I think that adds a lot to the mystique of the brand."

So despite oversupply issues and unreasonable labour expenses, Norris insists Australia is one of the best places in the world to make wine, or more importantly, to make the sort of wine that they want to make.

"We have a lot of government support," he said. "I think the industry as a whole is allowed to have the freedom to make the wines that they want to make. That's one of the main reasons why Jacques [pictured] came here. In different parts of the world you have a lot of restrictions on what you can grow, where you can grow it, how you can blend.

"Like all things Australian, you have this amazing freedom here to go out and plant this here or have a punt, have a go and if it works that's great. If it doesn't, then bad luck. But I think it's really exciting that in Australia you can go out and cut your own path."

Check out part one and part two of this story and hear some other persepctives on today's manufacturing industry from those living and breathing it!

 

Producers will get walked over, Joyce

National Senator Barnaby Joyce has called for a legislated code of conduct by warning that farmers would ‘get walked over’ should the code be voluntary.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), Coles and Woolworths have been in negotiations for a voluntary code over the past eight months and are in the final stages of drafting according to the Financial Review.

The code is designed to regulate alleged bullying behaviour from the major retailers, however the departure of the National Farmers Federation from negotiations in April sighting that a mandatory code would provide tougher protection for farmers, has created questions surrounding the validity and effectiveness of a voluntary code.

“My argument is if you believe you can abide by a code of conduct, why would you have a problem with it being mandatory?” Said Joyce.

“If we believe in a principle of fairness, and believe government is there to bring about fairness, then to say we will let the farmer determine his livelihood against Coles and Woolworths, that’s an absurdity.”

Whether mandatory of voluntary, if a code cannot be agreed between the parties or government before August, than the matter will most likely be on hold until after the election.

"I know absolutely that Coles and Woolworths will be frenetically lobbying people [in Canberra] to make sure no mandatory code of conduct will be brought in," said Joyce.

"We will try and bring about an agenda that brings a better outcome for farmers, knowing that we have very few friends. And even the ones who say they will stand up for farmers, such as Mr Windsor (Independent Member for New England), are nowhere to be seen on these issues.”

Nationals Senator John Williams believes that the Coalition will be able to work through the issues, and agrees with opposition small business spokesman, Bruce Billson who has said that fines will need to be imposed as a deterrent against non-compliance.

"You can set out a basic set of principles, for instance if you sign a contract, you must abide by that contract. If you breach it, then you face the adjudicator, who can impose a fine,” said Williams.

CEO of the AFGC Gary Dawson is continuing to support a voluntary code of conduct by stating that the code would be just as effective as a mandatory policy as it would still be enforceable by the ACCC.

“Whether an industry code is mandatory or voluntary, the key issue is that it must be effective without simply adding unnecessary compliance costs on suppliers.”

 

Boys prefer foods spruiked by sports celebs: study

Boys are more likely to choose unhealthy foods with on-pack endorsements by sports stars than those without, a new study of primary school-aged children has found.

The Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer surveyed 1302 Victorian children in grades five and six and concluded that sports stars should be prevented from promoting energy-dense, low-nutrient foods.

The researchers also found that children of both sexes were more likely to want foods with packaging that displayed claims about the food’s nutritional content, such as “reduced fat” or “source of calcium.”

The children were asked to look at mocked-up food packets for products in five categories: sweetened breakfast cereal, cheese dip snacks, ice cream bars, frozen chicken nuggets and flavoured milk drinks.

“For each food product category, a comparison pack was prepared, matched on packaging style to control for visual appeal of factors other than the promotion condition, but with a healthier nutritional profile,” the study said.

“Overall, results show that on-pack nutrient content claims made pre-adolescents more likely to choose energy-dense, nutrient-poor products and increased perceptions of their nutrient content. Sports celebrity endorsements made boys more likely to choose energy-dense, nutrient poor products.”

The study was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.

Dr Helen Dixon, lead author of the study and senior research fellow at the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, said the researchers only used images of male sports stars in their study because images of male sports stars are more common than female sports stars in food packaging.

Policy change
Dr Dixon said, “Stricter measures need to be introduced to limit food manufacturers’ use of nutrient content claims and sports celebrity endorsements to promote unhealthy foods, to ensure consumers aren’t confused about the healthiness such products.”

“We already have rules about the sorts of products that can carry health claims. You could make a rule that certain foods are ineligible to carry a nutrient content claim or a sports person’s image,” she said, adding that sports celebrities should think more carefully about the foods they promote.

“A lot of sports people who personally have an interest in health and fitness need to think about the effect they are having on children’s diets when they endorse food products. We have one in four kids overweight or obese in Australia, and when unhealthy food products are marketed heavily toward kids it can influence their food choices.”

Role model responsibility
Sandra Jones, Director of the Centre for Health Initiatives at University of Wollongong, said she was not surprised by the study’s findings.

“The boys really identify with sport players, and they really internalise it. And there’s a sense that that food actually contributed to those outcomes,” she said.

“There’s also the perception that if they consume it, it must be good for you. It’s about needing more of it in order to keep playing, or celebrating their success.”

Professor Jones also called on high profile role-models to take more responsibility for the products with which they are associated.

“What we should be saying is: you’re a role model for kids and you know you are. Is it really wise for you to promote this? Is it really a good idea to stick your name and your face on this product?”

Timothy Gill, Principal Research Fellow at University of Sydney, said the study clearly shows that children are easy to influence in terms of their product choices.

“Naivety around the market is something that, despite the fact that there are codes in place, is still widely utilised by the industry to encourage consumption of high profit margin products,” he said.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Indonesia lifts Aussie beef restrictions

Beef producers and processors across Australia can breathe a sigh of relief , following Indonesia's announcement overnight that it will lift restrictions on boxed beef and increase live cattle imports.

According to The Land, the supply increases are for the second half of the year with a further review to be held later in 2013.

The easing of the import restrictions is aimed at stabilising the cost and supply of beef in Indonesia ahead of next month's Ramadan and the Eid Fitri Fesitval in August, which marks the end of the fasting month.

There's also talk of Indonesia's rice trading enterprise, Bulog, importing beef products including frozen carcasses.

Queensland Agriculture Minister, John McVeigh, visited Indonesia two weeks ago to rebuild trade relations, said the decision will give hope to producers and exporters.

"This decision from Indonesia, which up to now has been scaling back imports, will give our producers, processors and exporters hope and confidence for the future," he said.

 

Katter proposes new labelling for imported produce

KAP leader and federal member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, is set to introduce the Imported Food Warning Labels Bill 2013 to the House of Representatives today.

The legislation aims to put the spotlight on imported food by labelling imported fresh produce and processed foods with this warning: WARNING: IMPORTED FOOD. THIS FOOD HAS NOT BEEN GROWN OR PROCESSED UNDER AUSTRALIAN HEALTH AND HYGIENE STANDARDS AND MAY BE INJURIOUS TO YOUR HEALTH.

Non-compliance could result in a $500,000 fine.

Katter said his proposed new labelling reforms would not only educate consumers of the health risks associated with eating imported foods, but could also drive Australians to buy locally and therefore support Australia's food manufacturing industry, which has struggled in recent times with a number of high profile brands collapsing.

The high Australian dollar, pressures from the supermarket duopoly and cheap imports have all been listed as contributing factors in the demise of brands including Rosella, Spring Gully and Cowra's Windsor Farm Food.

"Our orchardists are being forced to let their fruit rot on the ground and our iconic manufacturing processors are closing down because of the interminably increasing rivers of imported fruit and vegetables – from Brazilian juice concentrates to overseas tinned fruits that the supermarket giants favour in order to expand their private label range at the expense of Aussie businesses, farmers and jobs," said Katter.

"How can the supermarket giants continue to import fruit from other countries while the farmers and heroes of our great nation watch their fruit rot?"

Katter said he had no faith in Australia's biosecurity regime to protect Australia's agricultural industries from exotic pests and diseases, and said his proposed reforms could act as a warning for consumers.

"New Zealand has fire blight and therefore often sprays with streptomycin, which is quite rightly banned in Australia," he said.

"But there is currently no warning to Australian consumers, and both sides of Parliament should be ashamed of themselves, since both agreed to the apples coming into Australia."

 

National Food Plan lacks urgency, says AFGC

Released over the weekend by the Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig, the National Food Plan contains worthy goals for boosting food exports and production but lacks urgency, says the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson said the Council has long advocated for a National Food Plan which provides policy on ensuring that Australia has a safe, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food supply and can capitalise on export opportunities.

"The National Food Plan released today [Saturday, 25 May] takes a number of steps towards this by establishing the Australian Council on Food to bring the challenges of food production and manufacturing ‘front of mind’ to the nation's most senior policy makers, while the five yearly reviews of the National Food Plan will enable governments to track the progress of meeting long term sectoral objectives, critical to the success of the industry," he said.

Dawson also praised the $28.5m Asian Food Markets Research Fund which is expected to provide insights into Asian consumer buying preferences, build on Australian products' 'clean and green image' and maximise our competitive advantage.

Where the Plan falls short, according to Dawson, is that it lacks urgency in addressing the immediate challenges affecting the competitiveness of the food manufacturing sector, and will require much bolder policies in order to be effective.

"Given the scale and importance of food production and processing to the Australian economy the initiatives outlined today are very modest. There is little to build confidence to invest and no immediate action to tackle regulatory reform," said Dawson.

"While long term aspirations are important, industry needs the government to act urgently because without a competitive domestic industry these opportunities will never be realised."

The Greens have also come out criticising the National Food Plan, saying it fails to address issues surrounding the supermarket duopoly and lax food labelling laws, the Australian reports.

However, the National Farmers' Federation is happy with the Plan, with president Duncan Fraser saying it's a sign that the government has been listening to Australia's farmers.

"We asked the government to include collaboration between the agricultural sector and the Government on the creation of brands to promote Australian production. Today, the Minister has announced $2m as part of the Food Plan to develop a brand identity for Australian food and related technology," he said.

"We asked the government to ensure that work is done beyond the farm gate to improve opportunities for farmers to sell their produce, including a greater investment in understanding international markets. The Minister has today announced $28.5 million for research to tackle roadblocks to export, including a study into food needs and preferences, helping businesses increase their exports."

The NFF also praised the $5.6m allocated to building relationships with trading partners, including expanding the network of specialists that support agricultural trade in Asia, as well as the launch of a Productivity Commission review to identify priority areas of reform of food supply regulations.

"Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we asked the government to play a role in working with the agricultural sector to improve consumers’ understanding and perception of agriculture. We welcome the inclusion of $1.5 million to develop resources and provide professional development to support teaching about food and agriculture through the Australian curriculum – this is a starting point for what must be a greater long-term investment from government and industry," said Fraser.

The National Food Plan will also see the creation of a new Food and Beverage Supplier Advocate who will work with small- to medium-sized Australian businesses to help build new opportunities both within Australia and globally.

 

Federal Government’s National Food Plan to be launched on Saturday

The Federal Government’s new National Food Plan will be launched this weekend and is expected to outline government wide policies for food production, processing and accessibility.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, has announced the creation of a new Food and Beverage Supplier Advocate who will work with small to medium sized Australian businesses to help build new opportunities both within Australia and globally.

According to ABC News, Ludwig stated that the new advocate, who is yet to be revealed, will provide valuable assistance to suppliers looking to expand into new markets.

"The first National Food Plan is a roadmap that will set the direction of the future of food by governments, businesses and individuals all working together. Developing food and beverage markets, especially in Asia, is a key priority identified in The National Food Plan, but also in the Plan for Australian Jobs and the Australia in the Asian Century white paper," he said.

As part of the National Food Plan, Ludwig has also announced a $1.5m small grants program with grants ranging between $10,000 to $25,000 to support local initiatives from framers markets, and food rescue plans to community gardens and city plans.

 

We’ll end up renting Australia, says Dick Smith

Controversial Australian entrepreneur, Dick Smith, believes that continued Chinese investment in Australia’s gold and agricultural sectors will lead to a loss of control of the Nation’s own resources.

Smith has called upon the federal government to intervene stating that the short-term gain of foreign investment has directly lead to a poorer nation, as reported by The West.

Smith believes that if Australia had greater control over its resources by owning more of its core mining businesses, than the resources would not be used up as quickly.

“We allow them to buy land here because there's a short-term gain for our Government, because the Government needs to have perpetual growth. My attitude would be, we should say no, especially if it's food producing land,” said Smith.

Smith stated that he would be happy for Chinese agricultural and resources investors to immigrate to Australia and then buy into the industry, ensuring that the resources are kept in Australian hands.

"They can get the points to immigrate, and if they come here and bring their families and their kids – they make the most fantastic immigrants, the Chinese," he said.

"My attitude especially about the Chinese buying is that it's normally the Chinese Government, which is a communist Government, and I don't like them mining our resources," Smith said.

"In terms of agricultural buying, they won't allow me to buy any land in China, because they're sensible.”

Smith said that 70 percent of Australia's mining industry is owned by foreign investors and he believes that 90 percent of the Aussie food industry is foreign owned.

"Some argue it doesn't matter, but it does because all the wealth goes overseas. And we'll end up renting Australia."

 

The great palm oil debate: how the consumer turned an industry on its head

Palm oil has received a great amount of attention in recent months. Heightened consumer awareness surrounding palm oil farming practices has resulted in protests and boycotts the world over, causing producers to re-think the ingredient composition of many of their processed offerings.

Social media outlets have been rampant in naming and shaming manufacturers who use palm oil in their products. Supermarket giant, Woolworths, suffered a massive belting for the inclusion of the controversial ingredient in its hot cross buns earlier this year and Arnott’s has also copped a lot of flack for including it their popular Shapes range.

But what exactly is palm oil? Where does it come from and why is it so controversial?

What’s with all the bad press?

According to Food Standards Australian and New Zealand (FSANZ), palm oil is vegetable fat which is obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. Palm oil contains a significant amount of saturated fat, similar to coconut oil, and is a popular ingredient in many processed foods.

Current regulations state that palm oil doesn’t have to be labelled as palm oil, and may be used under the more generic guise of ‘vegetable oil.’

FSANZ previously rejected an application for the mandatory labelling of palm oil in July 2008. The application focused on environmental concerns rather than food and safety standards and as such, FSANZ had no legal capacity to hear the case.

Contrary to Australian regulations, The Food Information Regulation published by the EU will require all types of vegetable oil used in food, including palm oil to be stated by 2014. Canada and the US also require palm oil to be labelled.  

Approximately 87 percent of palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, with Australia importing around 130,000 tonnes of palm oil each year, according to WWF.

Palm oil is the world’s most widely used edible oil with an estimated 50 percent of products on Australian supermarket shelves comprising the ingredient. The widespread popularity of palm oil is due to its attractive price tag and the fact that it promotes a longer shelf life when compared to butter and other oil alternatives.

The controversy surrounding palm oil relates to mass deforestation which is taking place in Malaysia and Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations, with obvious implications for native species, especially the endangered orangutan.

WWF has estimated that around 300 football fields’ worth of forest native to the orangutan is cleared every hour.

Why would food manufacturers use palm oil?

According to the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, the oil palm plant is entirely GMO-free and yields up to 10 times more oil per unit than soybean, sunflower or rapeseed oil.

The rise in demand for palm oil has also been largely attributed to the move away from trans-fats in the early 2000s. Palm oil offers a low trans-fat content for a cheap price, which is a welcome alternative for many food manufacturers.

Palm oil is typically used to produce an extensive range of processed foods including margarine, ice cream, biscuits, chocolate, chips as well as baked and fried foods.

Palm oil kernels, a by-product of palm oil production, are used for stockfeed because of its high fibre content, energy and protein as well as favourable levels of residual oil.

According to CHOICE, the leading brands in the Australian grocery aisles including Coca Cola (SPC Ardmona), Goodman Fielder, Nestle and Arnott’s all use palm oil and label it as vegetable oil.

Is there a solution?

WWF-Australia and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) recently developed a report providing an assessment of facts, myths, issues and challenges surrounding the palm oil debate. The report provides a springboard for action to increase the amount of palm oil derived from sustainable sources.

"It lays out a way forward, including the need for better understanding of supply chains, better alignment of supply-side and demand-side expectations, and work to overcome significant logistical challenges,” said Gary Dawson, CEO of AFGC.

WWF- Australia’s CEO, Dermot O’Gorman said that the switch to sustainable palm oil is critical to the preservation of the environment and many engendered species.

“Companies must ensure that unsustainable practices are phased out; governments must support corporate commitments with appropriate incentives and land use planning policies,” he said.

Many other vegetable oils including canola oil, have been adopted by fast food outlets as an alternative to palm oil, including KFC which recently announced the use of Australian-grown canola oil.

The report states that a major challenge lies in the move away from stearin, which is palm oil in its solid state. Stearin is a popular ingredient in baking applications due to its hard composition, low cost and lack of trans-fats. Traditional alternatives, butter and hydrogenated fats, are typically higher in cost and contain trans-fats.

Other, more cost effective alternatives include more stable versions of canola, soy and sunflower oils however these products still hold a heftier price tag when compared to stearin.

How would a change to sustainable practices affect producers?

The costs associated with switching to sustainable palm oil production are a major factor in determining buy-in from food manufacturers. Some of the big players in the Australian industry however, Woolies and Coles, have already committed to make the switch.

Woolworths has committed to only use Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sustainable palm oil by 2015 in all private label products. The supermarket giant is now a member of the RSPO and has committed to using only certified sustainable palm in their hot cross buns for Easter 2014, following the consumer backlash earlier this year.

Coles, now also a member of RSPO, has made a similar move by committing to use only certified sustainable palm oil in all Coles-branded products by 2015. The retailer said that it has already removed palm oil from some of its bakery products.

The current global supply of certified palm oil is sitting at around 15 percent of the world’s total production, resulting in supplies of the sustainable alternative to be somewhat limited at this stage.

The reality of a sustainable switch

Palm oil production is vital to countries such as Malaysia where it accounts for approximately six to seven percent of GDP and employs a significant proportion of the country’s workforce.

The movement towards sustainable production needs to have buy-in from governments to ensure a smooth transition from current conventional practices, ensuring that farmers receive adequate income and incentives to make the switch. This will undoubtedly require a great deal of co-operation from parties on each side of the debate.

The push for sustainable palm oil is a true testament to the power of the consumer. Widespread campaigns reporting on the unfavourable production methods of palm oil has undeniably turned the industry on its head.

The consumer really does have more power than you think.

Palm oil labelling is unclear, Choice

Choice has released a statement relating to unclear labelling of products containing palm oil.

The consumer watchdog says that ambiguous labelling techniques are not allowing consumers to make informed decisions at the checkout.

According to the statement, approximately 50 percent of packaged products from shampoo to chips and health food snacks all contain palm oil under the guise of vegetable oil. Under current regulations, palm oil is allowed to be labelled as vegetable oil.

Palm oil is the most consumed edible oil in the world accounting for 33 percent of total production in 2009. Over 130,000 tonnes of the controversial ingredient is imported into Australia annually and used in popular grocery items.

“Unfortunately only 14 percent of palm oil produced is sustainable, and deforestation is resulting in catastrophic environmental damage. Additionally, it has a saturated fat content of 51 percent, which fares poorly in comparison to other vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower and olive,” said Choice spokesperson Tom Godfrey.

“CHOICE believes that in order for consumers to make an informed decision to avoid palm oil should they wish to, access to accurate labelling is vital. For a product with such high levels of saturated fat, we think it is important to clearly and specifically label, rather than leave it up to the consumer to decipher fat levels on the nutritional panel.”

Unlike Australia, The Food Information Regulation published by the EU will require all types of vegetable oil to be labelled by 2014, and the US and Canada already require palm oil to be labelled.

Leading brands including Arnott’s, Coca Cola (SPC Ardmona), Goodman Fielder and Nestle all use palm oil and label it as vegetable oil.

 

Australian Made confronts senate on country of origin labelling

Australian Made has appeared before the senate standing committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport regarding the labelling of beef imports into Australia.

The adequacy of current labelling laws were bought into question as well as the associated health and safety implications of importing beef from disease-affected countries.

Australian Made believes that the senate committee must stand firm regarding import regulations in order to maintain Australia’s reputation for stringent safety standards and environmentally friendly processes.

“In the case of beef, there is strong and justifiable concern about possible contamination of imported meat by diseases such as Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), and the consequent dangers to human health,” Australian Made Campaign Chief Executive, Ian Harrison said. 

The revised food standard which will come into effect in July 2013, covers compulsory country of origin labelling for unpackaged foods including beef, veal, lamb, hogget, mutton and chicken. These new standards do not extend to cover less common varieties including horse, rabbit, duck, turkey and quail.

Australian made is calling for compulsory country of origin labelling on all types of meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables and believes that it is within the interests of both business and consumers alike to develop uniform, easy to interpret labelling laws.

According to Harrison, research has shown that consumers have a strong preference toward Australian fresh and processed food due to the country’s stringent food safety standards.

“At present, the rules for using the Australian Made, Australian Grown (AMAG) logo on food products are more stringent than the rules applied by the ACCC for products to be described as ‘Australian Made’ or ‘Made in Australia’,” said Harrison.

“Being able to describe their products as Australian is an advantage in the market place for Australia’s manufacturers and producers. The Government should be seeking to strengthen this advantage by building greater consumer confidence into the labelling laws for ‘Made in Australia’ claims.”

 “It is Australian Made’s position that all food products should be required to carry a country of origin claim.”

 

New legislation may restrict farmers’ access to agricultural chemicals

New federal legislation was passed through parliament yesterday which will require chemical companies to re-register their products every seven to 15 years with Australia’s national chemical regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

The Victorian Farmers Federation’s president Peter Tuohey, has warned that the cost to re-register could restrict the availability of chemicals in the Australia market and swamp APVMA, which is already stretched for resources.

According to the VFF website, the previous legislation stated that chemicals only had to be reviewed if they posed environmental or health concerns drawn from peer-reviewed research.

“The risk is chemical companies just don’t bother re-registering products and think twice before introducing new products to the Australian market,” said Tuohey.

“The VFF has consulted CropLife and our commodity groups, who’ve warned chemical companies are likely to withdraw some chemicals from the Australian market rather than incur the costs of re-registration or simply pass the cost onto farmers.”

According to Tuohey, Australia is a relatively small market for chemical companies, and it is already challenging for farmers to gain access to specific chemicals. He believes that the cost of mandatory re-registration will either be passed onto farmers or chemical companies will simply withdraw from the market.

The VFF had recently called upon Federal Agricultural Minister, Joe Ludwig to drop the legislation as two submissions made by VFF in 2012 opposing core elements of the legislation did not impact on proceedings.

The cost of re-registration is estimated to cost an additional $8 m per year according to study by consulting company Deloitte.

The legislation is due to come into effect 1 July 2014.